Since Material Design made its way onto Android, I’ve noticed the operating system becoming much more design-centric. And since Android Wear’s debut, Google’s been particularly adamant about promoting independent artists and their watch face designs.
One of those artists is the incredibly prolific Virginia Poltrack. Her work has been featured several times by Google and she’s an active member of the company’s Women Techmakers. Poltrack also has a few watch face apps in the Google Play Store under her development company, Fat Russell, including a watch face app devoted to the historic women of science and technology. I sat down with Virginia to chat about her design work, what attracted her to the Android side of things, and why she still uses Google Glass.
Greenbot: You’ve done some collaborative work with Google and Women Techmakers. How did you get started, and what attracted you to this particular community?
Poltrack: First—and most importantly—I have to say that the Women Techmakers (WTM) team is amazing. They are incredibly kind, smart, and talented people who work really hard to provide visibility and opportunity for women in tech. I actually met Natalie Villalobos [Head of Global Programs for Women Techmakers]. She was familiar with some of my illustration work and the Android Wear projects I had been a part of. Through some of the initiatives that WTM has, we were able to stay in touch. I’ve been creating images and infographics for Women Techmakers since last year, and I’m really grateful to be able to work with them. I’ve also been fortunate to work with several other teams at Google, making illustrations, comics, graphics, presentations, and infographics—and they all found me because of the work I’ve done with Women Techmakers!
Greenbot: Do you find that there is actually some overlap between design and the Android operating system?
Poltrack: I think there absolutely is an intersection between design and the Android operating system. I think the obvious first point would be Material Design and all the awesome work that has been happening in regards to that, but I would also add that devices like Google Glass and Android Wear also present a really exciting opportunity. These are new devices, and while there are certainly best practices to consider, I think there is a lot of room for exploration in terms of designing for new devices like that (which I love and find so exciting!).
Greenbot: I noticed that some of your watch faces on Google Play are distributed under different development houses. Any particular reason for that?
Poltrack: I own a company called Fat Russell (named after my dearly departed dog), so while I do have most apps listed under that, I’ve also been really fortunate to work with some amazing people like Chiu-Ki Chan and Trish Whetzel, who are both developers. I learned a lot from working with both of those women, and I think it was a really good opportunity for me.
Greenbot: Do you have one particular developer you tend to work with the most?
Poltrack: The developer I work with the most would be my husband, Jono. Interestingly, we’ve been married almost 10 years, but we never worked on a project together until we started building Google Glass apps. From there, we started working on Android Wear projects.
I like to think that, at this point, we have a pretty good system down in terms of how we work, what we decide to work on, and what the process looks like. Generally, I will create some designs for watch faces, and start creating the assets he needs to build them. However, I’ve been taking the Udacity class, Android Development for Beginners, and started to build my own watch faces! That has been a great learning experience.
Greenbot: How do you decide the types of watch faces to design? Where do you get your inspiration?
Poltrack: I really struggled in the beginning designing for Android Wear. I think that my work has a certain style, and I didn’t see that reflected in the Play Store. That intimidated me at first.
I basically looked through my entire illustration portfolio and played around with potential watch faces. Eventually, I picked a few designs I felt were the strongest, and started building those out. That experiment turned into the Illustration Watch Faces by VA pack that was released in the Play Store.
I think after that, I gained more confidence and basically became obsessed with making everything into a watch face! Everything I make, I look at it like, “Would I wear this? Would I buy this?” If the answer is no, then I have more work to do.
Honestly, I get a lot of inspiration by what I would want to wear! I also try to draw things every day because I enjoy doing it, and I find that often those doodles can translate into a watch face with a bit of tweaking.
Also, stay tuned because there will be a new set of faces in the Play Store very soon!
Greenbot: Are you still developing for Google Glass?
Poltrak: I am, but I don’t use Glass every day like I used to.
Basically, I consider it a tool that I have, like a pen or a pencil. In some cases, it’s the perfect device to help me accomplish what I need, or what I want to make. I feel very loyal to Glass and I will always use it in some capacity with my work. Though the user base may have decreased, I think there are still a ton of really interesting things being built for it. And I think the technology isn’t going anywhere, as evidenced by other companies working on similar devices!
Here is another example: I just got a digital writing set with a special pen, notebook, and app that allows you to actually draw in a sketchbook and have the marks digitally captured in real-time. I wanted to make a video and post a review of this set, and using Glass was the perfect way to do that. Also, when I draw something from real life—that I am sitting and looking at—Glass is a great way to capture the drawing and the subject in a photo. I will absolutely keep using it.
Greenbot: How long have you been an Android user?
Poltrack: Not that long, actually! I got my first Android phone in December 2013. I should have switched a lot sooner.
Greenbot: What’s your current daily driver?
Greenbot: If you could live with only one app on your phone that isn’t one you’ve developed or helped develop, which would it be?